Accelerated Free Fall (AFF) ground instruction – Friday, September 1, 1995
The air was cool and fresh that morning. It was early and dew was still on the trees as I drove to the school. I took back roads from I-495 and the view was marvelous, all green and shining with sun. I had built a lot of expectations into this. As I drove, I wondered if the experience would really live up to them. Finally I turned into the dirt road to the airport and my adrenaline jumped up a notch. I pulled into the parking lot at about 5 minutes before 8. I was a bit tired, since I’d had trouble sleeping, probably from excitement.
The jump school is located in what used to be a hangar, converted to a parachute packing and loading area, some living space, and an office built next to it. It’s a very informal, comfortable environment. There are a few chairs on the deck next to the hangar to relax in. The hangar itself is a large packing room, a loft, a briefing room, a living room with couches, and bathrooms. The first thing I noticed in the packing room is a large “DO NOT LAND IN THE HORSE FARM” sign. It seems that the farm owner goes for her shotgun for those poor souls unlucky enough to land there. There are action oriented posters on the wall, and a bulletin board with various skydiving leaflets on it.
I had scheduled my AFF class on a Friday, so I knew that it would be small. I wandered into the office with a couple of tandem students that had arrived just before me. Corinne confirmed us all and took care of some paperwork. There was one other AFF student scheduled for my class, but he hadn’t arrived yet. We went into the briefing room to watch their disclaimer video and sign the waiver forms. I had been warned about this, but it was still amusing to watch the monotoned lawyer explain that we were signing away our right to sue for any reason, including if we slipped on a banana peel in the parking lot. I signed the form without hesitation and then had to wait for the Jumpmasters (JMs) to wake up.
After a few minutes some of the JMs wandered in, yawning and wiping the sleep from their eyes. Since they live at the hangar, they just get up and wander over to work. The tandem students had a short training class and I wished them well as they went off in the Cessna. I was still waiting for my AFF instructor. After about an hour the other AFF student still wasn’t there so they decided to start without him, giving me a private lesson! Hanne, my AFF instructor, was athletic and pretty, and is very good at what she does. She drilled me over and over until we both felt confident that I knew things well enough. We practiced the skydiving drill until I was reciting it like a mantra: Check in (look right). Check out (look left). Prop! (look forward). Out (swing left to the door), In (swing right toward the inside), Arch! (take an arch position while hurtling out the door).
Practicing the arch was pretty difficult. The arch is the position in which you are stable in the air. Laying on a round table, stomach down, I tried to hold my arms and legs up in the air to simulate a dive. After doing this for a while, I saw the tandem students come in for their landing. This quickened my anticipation for my own jump. More JMs started coming in, and some advanced jumpers as well. I did some more arch pratice and we moved to practice ripcord touches (PRCTs). You look at your ripcord, you touch it by moving your right hand onto it while moving your left hand above your head to keep stable in the wind, and then you recover by moving back to arch position. I kept making the mistake of leaving my left hand in position, which would make me go unstable in freefall, and Hanne finally started lightly smacking my left arm to remind me. This was great because I knew I’d have trouble remembering, but Hanne still felt the need to ask if it was OK. Apparently she’s had students who objected to it. I made it clear that I wanted to learn the correct technique and that the swats were helping me.
After some more classroom time, and a short lunch break, we went back to drilling in the field — this time for malfunctions. I would be standing in arch position, going through the dive, and Hanne would stand behind me with a large picture of a parachute. Each picture was different, most with a malfunction, and after pulling a pratice ripcord I had to look back at the picture Hanne was holding above my head and decide instantly whether the chute was OK, or if not, what to do about it. Most malfunctions require pulling the emergency handle for the reserve chute, sweeping the cutaway for the main, and using the reserve. A few minor problems can be remedied with simple procedures. That was the toughest and most intense part of the training, but also the most important.
Finally the class was finished and I took a written exam on all of the training, including landing procedures. I passed with only a couple of minor wrong answers, and at 2:30 PM was left ready to dive. The wind was a little gusty that day, so I kept almost getting to jump and then getting bumped to the next load because the wind kicked up. At one point I was even geared up, but a load of jumpers came in and Dino, the head jumpmaster, didn’t like the way the wind was behaving so he stopped student jumps again. It was getting near dark, and I hate to admit it but I had the attitude of a spoiled kid about it. I whined a little, and had a really sour countenance. As I’ve come to find out, this is very common; I’ve watched some students that behaved much worse than that. I was left frustrated because I didn’t get to jump, and made another appointment for Monday the fourth. As I drove away from the jump school, I began to realize that due to the intense emotions I was feeling it was probably better not to jump that day. Resolving to behave better the next time, I looked forward to Monday.